UAAP Finals: DLSU fuels Baldwin, Ateneo in ending drought
Our weight regime in January through May this year was all centered on getting stronger just so La Salle couldn’t beat us up -- Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin
Ateneo de Manila University coach Tab Baldwin took a rather unlikely inspiration to end a half a decade title drought.
Believe it or not, Baldwin looked at its archrival De La Salle University as a standard when they were building up for the 80th UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
A year after getting ran over by the Green Archers in the Finals, the Blue Eagles returned the favor Sunday and walked away with the school’s ninth title in a grueling best-of-three championship series.
All thanks to an inspiration Baldwin saw in DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo.
“They never take the pressure off. You know, they’re confident in their system—and that comes from Aldin,” said Baldwin after the sophomore coach steered Ateneo to a 88-86 win in Game 3 at the Big Dome that quenched the Katipunan-based squad’s five-year wait for a crown.
“They believe in their players, they believe in their system and they’re just not gonna take their foot off your throat—for one minute,” he added. “And I admire that so much.”
DLSU swept Ateneo last year in the Finals and that loss showed Baldwin the weakness that his team needed to improve if they want to contend with the mighty and very physical Green Archers led by back-to-back Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala, very athletic Ricci Rivero and the backcourt tandem of Aljun Melecio and Kib Montalbo.
“We’re really have been in two years in development trying to handle just that,” he said.
In fact, early this year, Baldwin even dedicated a five-month training to build their strength and not allow DLSU to bully them the way the Green Archers did a season ago.
“Our weight regime in January through May this year was all centered on getting stronger just so La Salle couldn’t beat us up,” he said. “And um, I don’t say that as a criticism of La Salle, I say that as a compliment.”
“We had to rise to their level. They set the bar so I have to congratulate them for that,” Baldwin added.
The Blue Eagles drew first blood in the series and were even 23 minutes away from sealing the championship in Game 2 if not only for a major collapse that saw them squander a 21-point lead that forced a decider.
Ateneo was in a precarious situation again in Game 3 when their 80-70 lead with just under five minutes in the match was cut by DLSU to 82-80 before Isaac Go hammered the crushing blow from the outside that gave the Blue Eagles a 5-point cushion with 24.7 ticks left.
“Losing is always tough and I’m happy it’s them not us but there’s no lack of respect and admiration for who they are and what they did to get here, what they did today,” said the former national team coach. “They fought back again. We had them down and again they fought back. You know, we had them down ten and then they cut it to I don’t know, three or something, two? They’re champions, they’re still champions.”
“You can’t take that away from them, he said. “But now, so are we.”
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